To Serve Them All My Days by R. F. Delderfield
Copyright 2008 (Orig. published 1972)
Sourcebooks Landmark - Historical Fiction
598 pages, incl. reading group guide
He turned left and cut through the Rogues Gallery to the linen room, thence to his own quarters, glancing sideways at a cherubic Algy Herries, beaming down from the panelling. "I won that round on points, Algy," he said aloud, and little Burnett-Jones, emerging from the linen room with a newly darned pair of socks, scuttled off to tell the Second Form that Pow-Wow was beginning to talk to himself, a certain sign of onrushing lunacy. He was a little crestfallen when this piece of intelligence caused no stir at all. Venn, from the lofty peak of a third-termer, hardly looked up from a count of grimed cigarette cards as he said, "Queen Anne's dead. They all do that. You'll get used to it in a term or two, new kid."
--excerpt from To Serve Them All My Days
To Serve Them All My Days tells the story of David Powlett-Jones. Back in Great Britain after three years serving in the trenches of WWI and severely shell-shocked, his doctor encourages him to continue his recovery by doing what he loves most -- teaching history. P. J., as he's often referred to later in the book (the students refer to him as "Pow-Wow"), takes his doctor's advice and sets off to interview for a post at Bamfylde, a remote boys' school in Devon. Powlett-Jones thinks it's unlikely the headmaster will be interested in a ruined young man who shakes at loud noises. Instead, he finds himelf practically accepted without question by an upbeat, charming and encouraging headmaster by the name of Algy Herries. Herries is desperate for warm young bodies as the war has killed off so many men who might have ended up searching for teaching jobs.
P. J. easily and quickly finds his place at Bamfylde and the job does, indeed, act as therapy. The story continues to follow him through two decades of service at Bamfylde, as he deals with the daily troubles of working with a variety of personalities, dealing with the loneliness, grief, excitement and fears that his students experience and his own ups and downs in the job and in his life. As the book closes, P. J. is reflecting on his time at Bamfylde. He's happy in some ways and just a tad bitter in others. England has taken a battering in the second World War and many of the boys he saw grow up have already been killed in yet another frightful war.
The ending really is lovely as it's beautifully concluded and yet not really an ending at all. Good times and bad have continued throughout his time at Bamfylde and it's clear that more of the same will continue to occur until he retires; and, you're left with the sense that there are many more years of his work at Bamfylde ahead of him.
I absolutely loved this book and looked forward to spending a little time with P. J., each day. In fact, because I enjoyed the atmosphere so much, I admit to deliberately dragging out the reading and I'm afraid I'd go straight into withdrawal if not for the fact that I own a copy of the BBC series on DVD.
The only thing I disliked (apart from a few diatribes about British politics) was that P. J. occasionally was a bit prickly and had a slightly bad attitude toward women. His coworkers blamed P. J.'s Welsh mining heritage for his occasional outbursts of temper. As to his feelings about women . . . this is something I noted in the protagonist of God is an Englishman, as well, and I suspect that the author was simply a product of his misogynistic times but it may also have been his way of portraying how men really felt during the time period. In To Serve Them All My Days, P. J. actually tells his depressed wife that she needs to "snap out of it" after her first child is stillborn. And, then he proceeds to tell her that being his wife should be challenge enough for her. Fortunately, P. J.'s best friend and mentor steps in with a much better plan for helping his wife recover from tragedy and in that way the author redeemed himself.
5/5 - A beautifully-written, emotionally charged and complex tale of one man's life, tragedies, hope and healing, set at an English boarding school. Absolutely engrossing.
Cover thoughts: Even though playing marbles isn't something that was mentioned in the book, I just love the Sourcebooks cover of To Serve Them All My Days. It seems to speak well of the time and place, an atmosphere of joy and learning. The way an older man is crouched near the boy, you can easily imagine he is P. J. or one of the other teachers and get a feel for how they were not just people who dipped into the lives of their students during class time but were involved in every sense. Teaching, at least as described in this book, was not just a calling but a way of life.
Many thanks to Danielle at Sourcebooks for the advanced review copy!
I'm not sure which of the three books I've been reading for a while that I'll end up focusing on with an eye to finishing, next, but I've just begun reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner and it is almost unfairly gripping. I'm also going to be touring that zombie book, Day by Day Armageddon, on Thursday so I need to find an image to place in my sidebar before I completely forget and find that I'm done. That happens; and, it's a pretty short book.
In other news:
We're all on pins and needles as our beloved Miss Spooky is spending the night at the veterinary hospital so that further testing can be done. Her beautiful green eyes have been bleeding (!!!) and the preliminary bloodwork showed that she is anemic and may have kidney issues. The vet has told us that he suspects there may be some internal bleeding, given both the blood work and the fact that she has bleeding in both eyes. Miss Spooky is 15, so I suppose she's reached that age when a kitty's health starts to go, but we're hoping her ills are treatable.
My teenager has already gone through the loss of our Little Miss Sunshine (whom he referred to as "Sunner" and I called "Miss Shiny") so he's acting tough but -- I don't blame him for this -- thinking ahead to the possibility of kittens if the worst-case should occur. It's nice having a son who is so besotted by his pets.
A lot of books have walked in my door, this week, but I'm most excited about God Sightings: The One-Year Bible - a new NLT chronological Bible from Tyndale. I have utterly and completely failed at my goal to read the Bible in 2009, but that was partly because I made the mistake of buying a Bible with teeny-tiny print, just as I've reached the age of bifocals. I like to do my reading at night and by the time I got that Bible out, it was hard enough to focus on regular print. The new God Sightings Bible is the normal size, paperback of the variety that stays open when you flip to a scripture, so that you don't always have to keep one hand on the Bible. I love that. I'll tell you more about it, later, when I've had a chance to get a good long look at it. I've been using my Mosaic Bible for Bible Study and will review that one soon -- hopefully, within the week.
I've been bad about wahooing, lately, so instead I'll ask: What do you have to Wahoo about, today? Tell me! I could use the upper. :)